NORMAN — Nathan Marek was on top of the world last season. After winning his first state wrestling championship and dominating his weight class, the sophomore from Southmoore had every reason to be there.
However, it took only one trip over the summer to Fargo, N.D. to knock him back off. Competing in the USAW Cadet Freestyle Nationals, Marek didn’t experience the same success he had at state. And that may be bad news for his opponents this season.
“You are thinking, ‘I just won state and no one is going to beat me,’” Marek said. “That’s why it was good this summer to go to Fargo. It was good to get beat as much as it sucks knowing that I’m not the best. It just kicks in that I can win another title if I put my heart into it.”
In winning the 160-pound state title last year, Marek compiled a record of 42-2. His only losses came to a wrestler from Texas. As dominant as he was, SaberCats’ coach Greg George knows his prized pupil can be better.
“A lot of stuff that he did in the past, he still had a lot of sloppy stuff,” George said. “He made up for that by never stopping. We want to get to the point where we can beat the very best guys in the nation without being sloppy. Just clean things up.”
Marek said his biggest incentive coming into his junior campaign is knowing everyone he faces will be gunning for him.
“I’m definitely coming in with a target on my back,” Marek said. “No one will have anything to lose. I know if I was wrestling a state champ, I know it’s not going to hurt me if I lose to them. It makes me want to work harder.”
It’s that hard work that will not only keep Marek on top, but also bring his team along with him.
“He’s the hardest worker we have in the room,” George said. “It’s a pretty good example. Just look what he’s doing and follow it. And that’s what you got to have. You got to have the kids motivated by themselves. We can yell at them, holler at them, but until they decide to do it by themselves, it really doesn’t make a difference.”
Along with Marek, the SaberCats return 10 starters from last year’s team. That includes senior Zac Damico, who placed third at the state tournament last year and won it all as a freshman.
George is also looking for big seasons from Denton Ward, Zac Moore, Connor Dooling and freshman Jacoby Walker.
“We are further along right now than we were at the end of last year,” George said. “The kids have worked hard. They know our system. They know what we are talking about. We still have a lot of brand new kids. But just the fact we have a lot of seasoned kids coming back makes a lot of difference.”
But George doesn’t want his kids to just be the best in Oklahoma. Even though he admits he loves to play the underdog role, he plans to have his team ready for anything this year.
“Our schedule is really tough,” George said. “We are going to a lot of national tournaments out of state to beat the best guys their are. Our goal is to win all those tournaments. Not to just beat the guys around here, but to beat the best guys in the United States in high school.”
Michael KinneyFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org